The SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival is about to hit Austin, but you don't have to be a registered badge-holder to enjoy it. There are tons of free shows and unofficial events that surround the festival, so whether you're a registered SXSW attendee or not, here are the spots to check out some of the best free musical performances.
Keep in mind that for many of these performances, an RSVP may be required, so be sure to check out the websites for detailed information.
Bands such as Indigo Girls, Eagles of Death Metal and Fitz & the Tantrums have played at The Belmont during the festival, and this year it will be the venue for the SXSW Comedy Opening Party on March 12. The combination indoor/outdoor spaces are beautiful, and the skyline view from the rooftop terrace is a photo op waiting to happen.
As the premier Austin music store, many local and national/international artists perform at Waterloo Records, often live on the radio. Free SXSW shows are generally held in the Waterloo parking lot, and the recently announced line-up for 2016 includes BØRNS, Peaches, Lissie, Sunflower Bean and Casey Veggies.
With several different stages set up inside and out, and as many as a hundred bands playing during the course of the festival, Spiderhouse is a great place to be. It's also more out of the general fray of the downtown area, so it's a little easier to get to and around. Lolipop Records, Onward Indian Touring and Space Agency will be there this year with dozens of bands.
Whole Foods Market
The second floor rooftop plaza of the flagship Whole Foods store is a great place to hang out, and often hear live music, any time. But during SXSW you can see great festival bands for free. This year, Whole Foods is hosting a three-day Quantum Collective Southwest Invasion starting March 17.
This massive event suitable for all ages will feature more than 30 bands; past SXSW musicians performing here have included Imagine Dragons and The Lumineers.
Whole Foods Market — Photo courtesy of Whole Foods Market
South Congress Avenue
The whole stretch of SoCo, just across the river from downtown, is one of the best places to be for free shows during SXSW. Yard Dog Art, Home Slice Pizza, Jo's Coffee, Continental Club and Guero's all book lots of quirky international bands.
The parking lot between Jo's and Hotel San Jose is one of the best parties of the festival, with one band after another and numerous food and drink booths, and artisan vendors. Alabama Shakes, No. Mississippi Allstars, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones have all played this party, before they hit it big.
Head further south, away from the hustle and noise of the downtown area, to Evangeline Cafe. It's a fun spot and always a good choice for a relaxed night with great food and good local music (check the schedule before you go). If the weather is nice – and it often is in March – you can enjoy your Abita and gumbo outside.
As mentioned above, many of these shows require an RSVP. Lines for free shows are often extremely long, especially for big names like Rachael Ray.
A great app to help you organize your party schedule is SXSW GO, the official mobile app that allows you to browse the lineup and create your personal schedule, then login to sync it with other devices. Do512 is another good resource, a website where you can RSVP to events and save them to your personal schedule.
There are also lots of free drinks and giveaways to be had. And remember to tip the bands! Most of them aren't getting paid to perform, especially if they're off the beaten path.
Buy a CD or two – it's a great Austin and SXSW souvenir to take home!